The Celtics were due for one of these. That doesn’t excuse it though, or make it hurt any less. In a letdown performance coming off of the biggest win of the year in Orlando, the C’s let the Clippers steal one from them. For the 2nd year in the row out in LA, after leading the entire 2nd half, Baron Davis hit a buzzer beater over Rajon Rondo for the win after Rondo missed 2 free throws with a second left on the clock.
Now, this wasn’t your classic letdown performance. The C’s actually played fairly well for a good portion of this game. The problem was they were never able to put the Clippers away. I don’t blame the C’s for this. LA’s junior varsity squad is a solid team, despite their subpar record and had some impressive performances tonight, specifically from Chris Kaman and Baron Davis.
The C’s stretched out their lead out to 10 points midway through the 3rd, but the Clips went on a 6-0 run at the end of the quarter to close it to 4. And that’s where it floundered for the majority of the 4th quarter, with the door remaining ajar for Baron Davis and company to sneak in for the victory. And that’s exactly what happened.
Execution was really the entire story in the final 2 minutes. The C’s clung to a 4 point lead thanks to some timely steals by the team’s new spark plug Tony Allen (more on him later). At this point the C’s had 2 offensive possessions coming off of timeouts where they simply failed to execute. Both times they took contested 3’s from Rasheed Wallace and Ray Allen and missed them both. Granted, it’s times like this where the absence of The Truth looms larger than ever, but the team clearly didn’t get the shots they wanted in that sequence. The team wasn’t hitting from the outside all game, (1/12 on the night) so going to contested 3’s in that sequence came back to bite the team.
Execution or a lack thereof also was apparent on the other side of the floor. Up 3, with 10 seconds left, Ray Allen made a major mental mistake leaving open the Clippers’ best 3 point shooter in Rasual Butler, collapsing on Baron Davis instead. With that little time left, you have to protect the arc and the C’s failed to do that. Basketball 101 right there. Kudos to Baron Davis for collapsing the D and making the pass in that sequence as well, but Butler should never have had the wide open look.
That left a tied ball game with 8 seconds left. Another opportunity for the C’s. Doc put the ball in Rondo’s hand for this final sequence and the point guard confidently took the ball to the hoop and drew the foul on Baron Davis. This is a huge development in my book, as Rondo has been hesitant in end of game sequences to make a strong drive and instead had settled for contested jumpers that have little chance of going in.
The problem here of course, is there is a reason Rondo doesn’t have the ball in his hands too much at the end of the game. His FT shooting has improved but he still shoots at a 54 percent clip this year. Combine this with him having too much time to think about the free throws during the official review of how much time was left on the clock, (two tenths of a second too much in my estimation were left on with 1.5 seconds being put on) led to Rondo predictably bricking both.
Baron Davis proceeded to come down the other end and hit a fadeaway 20-footer in Rondo’s face for the win with 0.1 left on the clock. Rondo could have likely done a better job denying the ball to Davis on the play, but I don’t fault his contesting of the shot much; he looked as if he were trying to avoid the foul more than anything else. Davis took a very tough shot and made it. He executed and Rondo didn’t down the stretch. It’s as simple as that.
A tough sequence for sure. Doc said it after the game that the C’s beat themselves here and he’s right. They had every opportunity to win this game but give the Clips some credit too. They made some tough shots and Chris Kaman made Perk look bad for the first time on defense all year (27 points).
All that said, it will be interesting to see how this team responds to this one. Their west coast trip last year was greeted with a similar swoon with losses in LA, Golden State and Portland. Will they come out motivated or lethargic off a back to back? Will Rondo remain as aggressive or his last second struggles get in his head? Time will tell.
Some leftover bullets now, before I pack it in:
As I mentioned before a lot of good in this game despite the loss. Some quick glimpses of things that stuck out.
* Tony Allen: Another solid performance with a double-double(!) of 10 points and 10 rebounds including 3 offensive. TA continued to fill on that stat sheet with 4 assists, 4 steals and only 2 turnovers in a team high 40 minutes. 2 of those steals came during the last 3 minutes of the game with TA taking one coast to coast for a big layup with 2 minutes left to give the C’s the aforementioned 4 point lead. The other steal should have been a fast break bucket too, but the C’s decided to run more clock after a 3 on 1 break.
In any case, TA provided great energy and defense all night long, playing unselfishly and within himself on offense. As evidenced by his high minute total, he was crucial to this team tonight and finding a niche for himself offensively in the starting five by getting out with Rondo on the breaks. Performances like these are becoming less and less of a pleasant surprise. Let’s hope he can keep it up.
* Glen Davis with an extremely productive 8 points and 6 boards (5 offensive) in just 15 minutes. The C’s won the battle of the boards tonight 37-33 and Davis was a big reason why. Having a bruiser like Davis back, a guy who is willing and actually likes to get his hands dirty inside off the bench unlike Sheed, will hopefully be a boon to this team’s rebounding problems as a whole.
* Rondo as a whole had a solid night offensively, setting the tone from the onset and was aggressive in looking for his shot within the game (9/16) from the night. Minus the hiccups in the final couple minutes, he had this team in position to win.
* Chris Kaman had himself a night with 27 points and 12 rebounds. That is easily the best line a center has put up against Perk this year and no doubt will leave him riled up tonight by allowing an opponent to go off like that. Zach Lowe predicted this well in his preview, that Perk can have trouble with a center with a good assortment of post moves a la Andrew Bogut so Kaman fit that bill tonight. Hopefully, its a good learning experience for The Beast.
* Rasheed Wallace had me excited by playing so much in the post during the 1st half. The team kept feed him when Brian Skinner was on him and he took advantage. But then Brian Skinner came out. And Sheed kept shooting….and shooting…and shooting. A team high 16 shots on the night and only 4 makes. 0 of 6 from downtown including a big miss from the corner in the closing minutes. (Does he ever make that corner 3?) Too many shots tonight for 30. It’s been nice though that I haven’t had to write about this for awhile though until tonight…..let’s hope it stays that way.
* Clippers shot 50 percent from the floor tonight and 40 percent from downtown. Both numbers are way too high. The C’s weren’t sharp defensively tonight when it mattered. They will have to tighten things up against the run and gun Warriors tomorrow.
* C’s only 1/12 from downtown. Again, missing Paul here hurts, but it’d be nice to see Ray or Eddie get hot from deep one of these days. Hated seeing the team take contested 3’s in crunch time.
* Just 11 turnovers for the C’s, a good sign since this is generally the team’s achilles heel. They found other ways to hurt themselves tonight.
* I know Doc likes to spread the floor in crunch time but I still hate having Sheed out there, especially when he hasn’t hit many shots all night. He lacks a conscience and shoots at will when he gets the ball so given how unselfish the rest of the team is, having him out there on he’s had a cold night seems counterproductive to me. Plus Perk is component offensively now, why not keep him in down low for layup/rebound?
* I thought Rondo was the worst free throw shooter in the league….then I saw DeAndre Jordan tonight. Career 37 percent from the line. Woof. He sure can throw down some monster dunks though.
*All in all, this loss should give Doc some good ammo to keep the boys fighting hard through the rest of this trip. Again, good to see the role players from the bench stepping up in Pierce’s absence. Now the rest of the aging troops have to follow suit for the rest of this trip.